The Rise of Experimental Designs in the Most Sought-After Sports Watches

The Rise of Experimental Designs in the Most Sought-After Sports Watches

A closer look at three important and playful sports watches from the upcoming Hong Kong Spring Sales
A closer look at three important and playful sports watches from the upcoming Hong Kong Spring Sales

B eyond their innate functionality and robust nature, sports watches have become an aesthetic staple in the luxury market. As technology evolves to improve the features of these complex watches, so too does the creative design that supports them. With that evolution also comes the rise of novel motifs, one of the most important at present being the rise of playful and experimental designs in the world of luxury sports watches.

The rise of sports watches themselves, and sportier styles more generally, has arguably transformed the market, with collectors and enthusiasts being drawn to the do-everything, all-purpose appeal of the timepieces, and watchmakers and retailers gearing their work to meet the moment. This trend can be observed acutely in the luxury market, with sports watches like those produced by Patek Philippe and Rolex, among others, famously commanding higher and higher prices in recent years. By the popularity of sports watches, it is natural then that the trend would evolve further over time, with creative experimentation by more avant-garde makers like Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet leading the effort.

The start of spring, of course, marks the beginning of a new meteorological season, but it also brings with it an entirely new-fashioned season of trends. As Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales approach, we have an opportunity to narrow in on some of the examples of this niche sector of playful styles in the sports watch category.

Richard Mille Felipe Massa, Reference RM011 AH Ti, Circa 2007

Brazilian Formula One driver Felipe Massa competed with an unmatched electric vigour that inspired the experimental design of the Richard Mille reference RM011 AH Ti. This example, to become available as part of the Spring Sales, not only embodies Massa's incredible racing spirit, but was further purpose-built to withstand the rigours of the champion's racing style.

On the wrist, the RM011 features a familiar tonneau silhouette in titanium, measuring 41.4mm by 49.5mm, with a height of 16.4mm. Richard Mille’s characteristic design is apparent throughout, with the case making use of an oversized crown, matching chronograph pushers, and the brand's signature screws motif. Integrated into the case is a black vulcanised rubber strap with a matte finish and vents placed throughout.

The semi-skeletonised titanium dial has a detail-oriented layout with three chronograph sub-dials that are coordinated with hour markers and a tachymeter carbon fibre flange. The date window just below 12 o’clock has a red frame with thin white straps, ensuring its legibility against the other details of the dial, while a subdued month aperture is placed between 4 and 5 o’clock to complete the annual calendar functionality of the timepiece. Operable via the pushers on the exterior of the case, the timepiece additionally offers a flyback chronograph module via the calibre RM-011, allowing for precise time measurements in high stakes situations, like Formula One racing.

Richard Mille, Reference RM010 AI WG, Circa 2010

Making its debut in 2006, the RM010 AI WG sought to tailor to changing market tastes following the release of the RM005, though it subsequently became the blueprint for the technical philosophy underpinning many succeeding releases.

The present reference in question features a tonneau-shaped case with dimensions of 48mm by 39.30mm, with a height of 13.84mm on the wrist. Distinguishing it from many Richard Milles is its use of a white gold case, here featuring a bezel entirely set with diamonds and interrupted only by signature Richard Mille screws placed evenly around its border. The use of diamonds and white gold is significant here – especially alongside this example’s vibrant yellow vulcanised rubber strap – with Richard Mille adding a touch of luxe playfulness to the avant-garde, sporty style that traditionally characterizes its watches’ silhouettes.

The shimmering gem-set exterior of the watch frames a semi-skeletonised dial with more yellow-tone detailing that plays with high and low details and adds to the lighthearted allure of the timepiece. The dial of the time-and-date model makes use of a grade 5 titanium alloy for its baseplate and bridges, adding an additional sporty and function-oriented touch to the incredible display. Partially visible via the dial, the automatic caliber RMAS7 drives the watch, with its unique variable-geometry rotor visible via an exhibition caseback.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Reference 77353BC.GG.1263BC.01, Circa 2021

Leading the category for many now-familiar design features in the sports watch category, the Royal Oak has strong design pillars behind it. That said, Audemars Piguet hasn't been shy from experimentation in its catalogue, with that ethos coming to fruition in watches like this example of the Royal Oak, in the reference 77353BC.GG.1263BC.01.

The distinguished watch saw its introduction in 2021, then captivating enthusiasts with its playful blue dial and unique case texture. The timepiece joined the Audemar Piguet’s Royal Oak Frosted Gold series, which saw its original debut in 2016 as a celebration of women’s Royal Oak line’s 40th anniversary and notably makes use of a now signature gold hammering technique. Also known as the Florentine technique, the style was developed by the famed fourth-generation Florentine jeweller Carolina Bucci, who has long collaborated with the Geneva maison. In this edition of the Royal Oak Frosted, the technique comes to live once more, delighting the eyes in its glints and gleans alongside the light blue display.

In wear, the watch embodies a nimble vitality on its exterior, with its 34mm case and bracelet featuring an 18-carat white gold construction, with its aforementioned hammered finish that becoming animated as it interacts with light. The shimmering surface is contrasted with the Royal Oak-characteristic bezel screws, all eight of which are polished along with the crown. With a thickness of only 8.8mm, the case appears quite delicate despite its robust nature, delivering the assurances of a sports watch with water resistance of 50 metres.

For the dial, Audemars Piguet opts for a light blue Tapisserie pattern, providing yet another opportunity for dynamism that is dependent on light condition. White gold applied hour markers are positioned on the periphery of the dial while Royal Oak hands with luminescent coating indicate the time, here powered by the self-winding caliber 5800. Adding a layer of functionality, the rare Royal Oak additionally features a light blue date window at 3 o’clock, with a subtle black numeral contrasting in its simplicity to the intricate playfulness found throughout the rest of the timepiece.

Special thank you to Blanc de Chine for the generous support for our themed photoshoot. All photo credits: Egill Bjarki.


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